Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) evade containment by CD8+ T lymphocytes through focused epitope mutations. However, because of limitations in the numbers of viral sequences that can be sampled, traditional sequencing technologies have not provided a true representation of the plasticity of these viruses or the intensity of CD8+ T lymphocyte-mediated selection pressure. Moreover, the strategy by which CD8+ T lymphocytes contain evolving viral quasispecies has not been characterized fully. In the present study we have employed ultradeep 454 pyrosequencing of virus and simultaneous staining of CD8+ T lymphocytes with multiple tetramers in the SIV/rhesus monkey model to explore the coevolution of virus and the cellular immune response during primary infection. We demonstrated that cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL)-mediated selection pressure on the infecting virus was manifested by epitope mutations as early as 21 days following infection. We also showed that CD8+ T lymphocytes cross-recognized wild-type and mutant epitopes and that these cross-reactive cell populations were present at a time when mutant forms of virus were present at frequencies of as low as 1 in 22,000 sequenced clones. Surprisingly, these cross-reactive cells became enriched in the epitope-specific CD8+ T lymphocyte population as viruses with mutant epitope sequences largely replaced those with epitope sequences of the transmitted virus. These studies demonstrate that mutant epitope-specific CD8+ T lymphocytes that are present at a time when viral mutant epitope sequences are detected at extremely low frequencies fail to contain the later accumulation and fixation of the mutant epitope sequences in the viral quasispecies
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